“Double Marginalized” The Story of Maanda Ngoitiko and the Pastoral Women’s Council

UniversalGiving wants to honor mothers this week. Maanda Ngoutiko was not a biological mother, but she was a mother figure to many Maasai women.

Global Partners for Development shared this news story by Amy Holter about a very strong Maassai woman.

*Disclaimer – this post contains some disturbing content.

Maanda Ngoitiko, the founder and executive director of the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) in Loliondo, Tanzania, is a Maasai woman. In her culture, she says that being born a girl means being treated like the property that you will never own. She says it means that you will become a bride to be used as a pawn to support your father’s local relationships. She says it means a life of being viewed as a child far into adulthood.

In the school that PWC built, Maanda’s colorful, plentiful Maasai beads clinked as she settled in. The weight of them would become more and more meaningful as she guided me through her story.

Maanda was born in Olorsiwa, a subvillage in the Loliondo District. There, she walked approximately eight kilometers to primary school every day with her best friend. When she was in Standard 6 (the equivalent of sixth grade in the U.S.), her best friend went through female genital mutilation and was told that her father had chosen a husband for her. When she refused to marry him, the men in her family took her to a public space, removed her clothes, and beat her. Maanda watched as her friend’s father held up her clothes as a warning that other girls should not resist marriage in the same shameful way.

“I was very lonely in my heart when she dropped out of school,” said Maanda. “I could not help her. I felt really desperate.”

Soon, it was Maanda’s turn to resist marriage. Her father found her a husband when she was still 12 years old. She refused to marry him as well as the second man her father found for her. After she finished primary school, she cared for cows with her father and uncles for three years.

Her actions were “discussed widely” in the district, and Maanda’s disobedience and disrespect to her family quickly became a subject of local news briefings held at political meetings. A Member of Parliament heard about Maanda and offered to send her to school. Though her father ignored the offer, her uncle told her that she should run away to the bush, and he would arrange for the Member of Parliament to find her.

“I waited for a long time in the bush. Then, I saw a light from a car coming towards me. A light to take me away.”

Maanda was admitted into the Training Center for Development in Arusha. On her first day, Maanda met Alais Morindat, another current partner of Global Partners and leader of Arkaria Village, who gave her tutorials in English and math for two years. One of her teachers linked her to the Irish Embassy, and she received a scholarship to study in Dublin where she earned her bachelor’s degree in development studies.

After returning to Loliondo and reuniting with her family, Maanda started meeting with other women in Loliondo Division by creating “a forum for women to discuss their own issues,” which eventually became PWC. The women met without any funding for four years with the goal of improving women’s solidarity and increasing interest in girls’ education. Many in the community opposed them from the beginning, claiming that women should not meet alone without men.

“[Maasai women] are double marginalized,” said Maanda. “We are marginalized by the larger society for being Maasai, and we are marginalized by the Maasai for being women.”

When asked why she came back to a culture that often treats women with disregard and sometimes violence, Maanda wasn’t sure where to start. “There are some Maasai girls, even those saved by PWC, that as soon as they get their way, they run away forever. They see this culture as a serious threat to their freedom.” But, she went on:

“I wanted to come back because I wanted to see a generational change. I wanted to see more Maasai girls enjoy their freedom. I wanted a new generation of Maasai women who are being treated with dignity and respect. I wanted to change the perception of men.”

She also said that the Maasai have many wonderful aspects of their culture. “If you are very poor in a Maasai community, you will never die of hunger when your neighbor has food – there is a culture of sharing what you have. The Maasai have also been the guardians of the environment for centuries, but they are not recognized by the government and are subjected to land alienation. I wanted to teach this community to be a bridge between the Maasai and the government. Without land, there is no Maasai.”

PWC has now established 260 active women’s groups across three districts and engages thousands of women. Though it’s work is still opposed by some, PWC is growing and is embraced by more and more members of the community, both male and female. Through PWC and other organizations, a locally driven women’s rights movement is underway in Maasai communities across Tanzania.

One of the goals of PWC is to rescue girls who are escaping forced marriage and other forms of violence. Last year, PWC rescued 17 girls, many through police intervention, and all of them lived at Maanda’s home.

I met one of the girls who was rescued by PWC in 2014. She was in school and went home to visit her parents. When she arrived home, they locked her in a room and told her that her future husband would soon come to get her. A woman who did not realize she was there unlocked the room to retrieve something. When she saw the girl, she called Maanda, and the police came to take the girl away.

“She cried the whole night,” recalls Maanda. “This is just one case, but we have a lot of cases like that.”

This girl is now continuing her studies through a scholarship from Global Partners. With funding from Global Partners and mentorship from women in PWC, she will finish her studies and hopefully reunite with her family to help them understand her unconventional path.

In March 2016, Global Partners supported PWC in purchasing a large house near the PWC office that will serve as a rescue center for Maasai girls. Maanda anticipates that at least 100 girls will be supported through this center each year while they transition into dormitories at secondary schools. The gated home has a 24-hour security guard and matron. With bunk beds, blankets, pillows, computers, and solar electricity, the girls will be welcomed into a space where they can work through their emotional trauma with girls who had similar experiences and alongside women who embody the strength and perseverance they will need to pursue their individual and collective ambitions.

Through local initiatives and international partnerships like this, Maanda and women like her are helping to shape the future of human rights among the Maasai. As I stood in what I will call the “rescue home,” I could feel the possibility. I could almost hear the tears and laughter of the girls that would fill it in the coming months. I ached to tell them that help was on the way.

“Oh, we really have to keep moving,” said Maanda as she looked at the time – we were late to a Maasai fundraiser for women’s businesses and girls’ scholarships.

Yes, Maanda, yes we do.

This article is from Global Partners for Development. Read the full news article here!

Honoring Strong Women

UniversalGiving is fortunate to have a team led by many bright and powerful women who work hard to create positive change! 

Below are some strong women that the UniversalGiving team chose to honor today!

From Pamela Hawley-CEO

Frances Blaisdell Williams was the first woman woodwind at Julliard School of Music in 1928.  She was a pioneer for women and women flutists all over the world.  Most importantly, she was my grandmother and one of my best friends

My dear Oma, a pioneer woman flutist in the 1920s (read about her in the New York Times) began teaching me flute at the age of 8. She was a profound influence on my life and was as phenomenal of a teacher as she was a performer. Read more here.
***
From Miko-Intern
Anne Frank is a very strong woman. Anne was very young when she died. Under WWII, Jewish people were in a horrible situation, but Anne was very positive, hard-working, and never gave up.
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From Lisa-Executive Assistant Intern
IMG_2239
For International Women’s Day, I chose two of the most inspirational women in my life, while I had was lucky enough to have Christa as a coach and Taylor as a coach and a teammate, I consider them both to be some of my most helpful friends and mentors. ThIMG_2240ese two women have taught me a lot about what it means to be strong and have helped me love who I am. I have strived to be the best athlete, friend, and person I can be because of them. I am so thankful for all they have shown me and done for me.

 (Right Christa Prior/Left Taylor Curdado)

 

Appreciate the strong women in your life, and lend support to women internationally…

Empower women through gardening!

Support women with obstetric fever.

 

The Stories That Change Our Lives – Inspiration from Tamora Pierce

“Girls are 50% of the population. We deserve to represent 50% of the heroes.”

– Tamora Pierce

Sometimes the people who inspire us never existed.  And sometimes it’s the people who created those fictional characters who furnish the inspiration.

Tamora Pierce is an author of young adult fantasy novels, and at the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating, I can tell you that she changed my life.  Tamora Pierce writes books about strong women, or “sheroes.”

When Pierce was starting out in writing, there was (and to some extent, still is) a belief that books about boys were more marketable.  The theory goes that young adult girls will read stories about male heroes, but young adult boys won’t read about female leads—write about a boy and you have twice the market, meaning there weren’t as many stories about heroic girls, and not as many role-models for girls to read about.

Song of the Lioness Quartet

But almost thirty years ago, Pierce wrote Song of the Lioness.  It’s a fantasy quartet about Alanna, a girl who desperately wants to become a knight, even though it’s a profession not open to women.  So Alanna disguises herself as a boy, and sets about to do it anyway.  She’s brave and strong, knows who she is and what she wants, keeps up with the boys and earns their respect.  It’s a wonderful story.  I read the books at a young age, and they made a huge impression on me.  Since then, I’ve read many other books about strong girls, and Pierce certainly isn’t the only author writing those characters.  But she was at the beginning of a changing trend, and she was one of the first to make a big impact with me.

I’m a firm believer that a girl can do anything a boy can do, that women should have the same rights as men, and that we all ought to be equal, whether in pay rates or in who cleans the house.  I’m sure a lot of that belief comes from my parents, especially my mom, but I think reading about Alanna at a young age helped.

I also know I’m not unique in this—off the top of my head I can think of three friends who were deeply influenced by Tamora Pierce’s writing.  Two of them I became friends with because we bonded over our shared love for her books (another way she changed my life!)

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Alanna when I grew up.  Now, I think I want to “grow up” to be Tamora Pierce, at least as a writer.

The world needs stories like Alanna’s, and Pierce’s other books.  We need stories that tell girls they’re as good as boys, that they can be strong and make a difference, that they don’t have to stay with their pushy boyfriend, that they can be themselves, whoever that is, and that they can achieve their dreams and do great things.  Boys need to hear some of that too, and Tamora Pierce’s books provide excellent role models of both genders.

My Tamora Pierce Collection

To quote Pierce again: “It’s not just children who need heroes.”

We all need heroes who will inspire us to become heroes.  That may be the ultimate magic of Pierce’s books—she didn’t just tell me about a heroic girl.  She told me I could be one too.

We all can be—and we can help other girls achieve their goals too.  In one of her later adventures, Alanna joined a desert tribe, took two girls under her wing and helped them gain acceptance and respect—and learned from them too.  We can all help someone, a relative, a friend, or a stranger thousands of miles away.  Thanks to our increasingly global world, we can find opportunities to help all over the world.  We can send a girl to college, help a woman start a business, or volunteer with women in the developing world.

Or we can find a way to inspire someone else.  Has there been an Alanna or a Tamora Pierce in your life?  Have you gone on to help someone else?  I’d love to hear your story!

Cheryl Mahoney is a writer for Tales of the Marvelous, sharing book reviews and reflections on writing.  She has reviewed more than fifteen books by Tamora Pierce, and many others about strong and inspiring girls. She is the Senior Marketing Associate at UniversalGiving and a managing writer for PhilanthroPost.